Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Public Behavior

Earlier this month, I responded to a letter in the Yated from a father who complained that Pesach (and the assorted Pesach outings that one must take his kids on) were bankrupting him. I responded with a list of ten things that could be done in New York City at little or no cost. One of the things on my list was a trip to FAO Schwarz (which I misspelled in my original post).

Shortly after it appeared, I received a letter from Efrex, one of my readers. His letter said as follows:


I came by your blog fairly recently (you quoted a piece of mine from the blogosphere), and I wanted to respond to a post that you made a few weeks back.

In your piece on "Living in one's means," you listed a few things that a budget-conscious frum family could do on Pesach. On your list, you mention visiting FAO Schwarz without buying anything. This sounds innocuous, but is one of the sources of a HUGE chillul hashem that happens annually. My wife worked at FAO as a toy demonstrator for the first two years of our marriage, and she could regale you with horror stories of frum families who used the store personnel as their personal babysitters for hours on end. When, in a single day, dozens of frum families parade through the store, handling everything and buying nothing, I can assure you that none of the workers is thinking about the twenty other non-Jewish families who did the same thing; rather, they're thinking quite a number of unprintable things.

Frum families are EXTREMELY conspicuous in the city during Pesach time, and they need to be aware of the impression they make.

Sadly, I'd say that I have to agree with him. I, too, have seen public behavior by members of our community that makes me cringe. While I'm willing to believe that most of us are capable of behaving ourselves in public, the sad fact remains that the few of us who don't stand out and make a big (negative) impression on the rest of the public.

And, to be perfectly fair, I have to even add myself to the list of troublemakers. I recently attended a Broadway show (Macbeth) with my lovely wife. We sat in the balcony in the first row. At one point during the performance, I leaned forward (since I was in the first row, there was no one ahead of me) to get a better view of the stage. After a few minutes of sitting leaning forward, I received a tap on my shoulder from the person sitting behind me asking me to sit back because I was blocking her view. Of course, I gave a quick (and quiet) "I'm sorry," sat back and watched the rest of the show. After the show, I turned around and again apologized, telling her that I had no idea that I was blocking her view (if I knew I was, I certainly never would have leaned forward). While she didn't yell or curse or do anything outwardly hostile, I could also see that she wasn't going to be gracious about it either. The point is that I'm sure that I didn't just end up in her mind as the jerk who was blocking her view, but the Jewish jerk who was blocking her view.

Is it necessarily fair that our misdeeds stand out more than the "average Joe's?" No, not really, but as my mother reminds me (and I remind my kids), life isn't always fair. As Orthodox Jews who are very conspicuous to the public eye, we have to do our best to maintain proper behavior in public. As Efrex points out in his letter, it doesn't matter that twenty other non-Jewish families do the same annoying things that the few Jewish families did - it is the Jewish families who will be remembered.

I suppose it would be nice if we put the same effort into encouraging proper public behavior as we do in encouraging the latest tznius chumra or silly ban.

The Wolf


G said...

Hold on just one darned minute!

Toy demonstrator!!??
This is actually a job that one can be paid to do?!
Please, please let me know what this entails and how much it pays because I may have just found my dream job!

BrooklynWolf said...

Not exactly the point I wanted you to pick up from this post :)

But you can find that info here:

Look for "Product Demonstrators"

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

It's generally considered assur to go into a store if you have no intention of buying anything.

SuperRaizy said...

I'm glad you brought this to people's attention. Frum Jews DO draw more attention than many other people, primarily because they dress differently than the general public. When frum Jews behave inconsiderately in public, they are are perceived as arrogant, obnoxious JEWS, and we all get painted with the same brush. Like you said, it may not be fair, but it's true.

BrooklynWolf said...


That's true, but that's only because you're giving the shopkeeper a false expectation of a sale. With FAO Schwarz that does not apply since it is famous for people going in and just looking. They understand that over 90% of the people who walk into their store aren't going to buy anything.

The Wolf

ProfK said...

What would seem to be a problem Wolf is that people aren't just going in and looking around; they are going in and handling the merchandise. The old saying "You can look but you better not touch" would seem to apply. Would you, if you were part of the 10% that are in the store to buy something, want to take an item that has been handled and played with by so many people before you? Or would you ask for a brand new one still in the original packaging and still in pristine condition? Are we allowed to cause loss to a merchant when we handle merchandise we have no intention of buying?

And yes, Jews are visible because we dress differently. That being the case, we need to be aware that we are seen as representing the whole, even if our behavior is uniquely our own.

G said...

they are going in and handling the merchandise. The old saying "You can look but you better not touch" would seem to apply. Would you, if you were part of the 10% that are in the store to buy something, want to take an item that has been handled and played with by so many people before you?

True in theory but not in this case. Part of the FAO experience is the ability to try out the stuff. Everybody does this, it is an understood/accepted part of the store. Which is also why there are normally a bunch of 'floor models' and then numerous boxed items for actual purchase.

Does that mean it should be abused, no.

G said...

Not exactly the point I wanted you to pick up from this post :)

yeah, and interesting ways in which Jews continue not to live up to par, been there read that.

Toy demonstrator, now that's news!

Anonymous said...

The p'sak of the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, and all the posekim up until modern retail is as Anonymous said. However, it has little applicability in our times, because the business model has changed. You need to think of a 19th century general store, where the merchandise is behind the counter in boxes and not on display, and you have to ask the shopkeeper even to look at an item.

Modern stores, on the other hand, make great effort to bring people into the store in the hope that they will be enticed into buying something they hadn't planned on. I have asked this shaila, with respect to various inducements, like gift certificates for test driving a car, to several Rabbis, both MO and Chareidi, and have always gotten the same answer: "the store is doing this in the hope they can sell you one; they know full well they are attracting people who aren't coming in to buy. They expect they can sell enough people one anyway. Your purpose is to take advantage of the offer, not to tease the salespeople." In the case of FAO Schwarz they put on the elaborate displays to entice people to come in to a high end toy store. They figure there is enough of a chance that either their salesmen or your kids will persuade you to buy something you hadn't intended on buying to make it worth their while.

Unless you are very resolute in saying no to your kids, however, a visit to FAO Schwarz will not be as inexpensive as you might think.

Anonymous said...

Just a note on that "leaning forward" portion...
It isn't like we were sitting on the edge of our seats and sitting upright. We were leaning forward and DOWN on the balcony railing. We did this (or at least, I did) because it was a bit difficult to see the action on the stage when the actors stood in certain positions due to the lighting mechanisms that were attached to the edge of our balcony. We had absolutely no way of knowing that our bending DOWN would block the woman's view. After all, she had a higher vantage point than we did. She waited quite a long time before saying anything and was extremely unforgiving despite our saying "sorry" and immediately righting the matter during the play as well as apologising once again afterwards.

Yes, she's probably chalking it off to "horrible Jews", but it isn't because we did something obviously wrong. She could have said something a lot earlier on in the play and we would have immediately rectified the situation. Sometimes people want to be disagreeable (and prejudiced?) even when they get their way, and there isn't anything we can do about it.

(Didn't you tell me to let this go? And then YOU blog about it?? :))

efrex said...


Sorry to come late to the party, but believe you me, you DON'T want to be an FAO toy demonstrator. You're on your feet for the whole workday, doing the same routines over and over (The Lovely Wife(tm) had SOME variety, since she was demonstrating different items from a line of magic toys, but even so), and the smile tends to freeze after the 30,000th kid squeals out "I know how you did that!"

The pay ain't all that great either, and an employee discount just brings the price down from "obscene" to "ludicrous."

Orthonomics said...

Hi Wolf. Your post hits home. I've had a post in cue for ages asking "are we a walking chillul Hashem?" We try our darndest to behave very nicely in public. But it seems that our grocery cart is often an inch too far into the aisle, that we move too slowly through the grocery store lines, etc. It is really frustrating because I am always trying to not block people or hold people up and yet it happens and it reflects on the klal.

Anonymous said...

One Chol HaMoed I took my kids to Teterboro Airport. There was a chassidic family there, one of several, who was just a walkin'-talkin' Chillul Hashem through and through. To this day, I cringe at every memory of that day.